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2007 Norton Rotary Racer
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We've featured rotary-engined racebikes before, but here's a brand new one to feast your eyes upon. The NRV 588 is scheduled to hit the TT track in 2007...

You may recognise the general profile of the Norton rotary racer pictured here, but this isn't an upgraded, roadgoing F1 or one of the original racebikes. It's a new version of the liquid-cooled, twin rotor racer. This revised NRV 588 is the work of Brian Crighton, the man who originally persuaded Norton's Shenstone factory to start racing its rotary-engined machines in 1987. Their presence set British racetracks alight, drawing huge crowds and Crighton's peak achievement was in 1994, when his Nortons sponsored by Duckhams Oils dominated the UK's premier Superbike championship. The winner that year was Ian Simpson, with team mate Phil Borley only missing second place by one point.

The Norton NRV, yesterday. Nice curtains.

Financial difficulties halted production of road machines at Shenstone, making it impossible for Norton to meet Superbike racing homologation rules. (Many people believe that the ACU banned rotaries, but this has been denied. It was a complex situation, but in short the globally adopted Superbike rules were tightened up so entrants had to homologate by showing sizeable production figures. Norton were not producing enough bikes to qualify. A similar situation continues today, with the bigger manufacturers pushing for higher homologation requirements to squeeze the smaller companies.).

The Norton race team folded just as Crighton was pushing on with plans for a new-generation rotary equipped with advanced technology. But he held onto the dream…

In 2004, he was taken on by the National Motorcycle Museum to tend its collection of ex-factory Norton Rotary racers and undertake general motorcycle restoration. When museum owner Roy Richards learned of the frustrated racer project, he offered to fund its completion.

After many months of intensive work, the high-tech machine was completed in time to be displayed at Birmingham bike show in the autumn of 2006, where it was much admired by racing insiders as well as the general public. A representative of the TT organisers offered an entry for the 2007 Senior TT on the spot.

Variable length inlet tracts, fixed length shiny gubbins.

The NRV has fuel injection with 'fly by wire' throttle operation and variable-length inlet tracts to maintain optimum torque throughout the upper rpm range. There are Bowden cables from the twistgrip which connect to a potentiometer. It tells the ECU what the rider wants and that tells the electric motor to turn the shaft with the two throttle butterflies on. A fail safe means that manually shutting-off will over-ride the system in an emergency. The re-programmable Omex on-board computer (ECU) which controls such multifarious functions is inside the fairing nose along with a 2D data-logging device, and the rider has an LED dash read-out.

At the rear end of the twin spar aluminium Spondon frame, a braced rear swinging arm is controlled by a single suspension unit. Front suspension is by an upside down telescopic fork, which carries radially-mounted calipers for the disc brakes. The entire braking system is by AP Racing and Dunlop supported the project by supplying tyres. Designed by Crighton with help from Formula One car experts, the fairing was made in carbon fibre by Harris Performance. The exhaust took some time to get right - rotary engines run too hot for titanium, so Inconel was used.

'Now we start on static and track testing,' Brian Crighton says. 'We aim to enter selected races and will show what could have been achieved if the Norton team had kept going in 1995, with technology that was then well ahead of the game.' The NRV can race in the Open 1300cc events and the Senior TT. Rumour has it that Brian is confident that the NRV won't disgrace him - the rotary is still very nimble and should be competitive even against modern kit boasting 190-plus bhp.

Steve Spray, winner of the 1989 British Formula 1 and 750cc Supercup championships on Rotaries, has agreed to ride the NRV588. Steve is a familiar sight at classic parades and is known for not hanging about… wonder how he'll cope with the younger generation of riders?

Museum owner Roy Richards, who already owns all the factory Rotary racers bar one (there are around 16 of them on show in the Museum at Birmingham), is justifiably pleased with the new machine. 'It is a fantastic piece of work' he enthused. 'I have been a Norton enthusiast all my life and I consider this to be the absolute pinnacle.'

NRV588 Fact Pack

  • 588cc twin-rotor Wankel type engine.
  • Fuel injected, direct spray into both bellmouths.
  • Fully variable intake tract to peak maximum torque between 8000rpm and 11,000rpm.
  • Electric water pump.
  • Ducted fan air cooling for rotors.
  • 'Fly-by-wire' throttle
  • Power: 170bhp @ 11,500rpm
  • Chassis: Twin spar aluminium, by Spondon
  • Suspension: Ohlins USD forks, rear Ohlins long-stroke single-sided direct connection unit
  • Brakes: AP Racing systems with radially mounted front calipers
  • Wheels/tyres: Dymag 16.5-inch, Dunlop
  • Dry weight: 130kg
  • Random Rotary stuff on eBay.co.uk

    Visitor Info: www.nationalmotorcyclemuseum.co.uk

    If you'd like to see the NRV along with the other rotary racers in the NMM collection, then you'll find them on the M42/A45 junction.

    The NMM is open every day from 10am to 6pm (except 24-26 December). Admission costs Adults £6.95, Senior Citizens £4.95, Children (under 15) £4.95, Family Tickets (2 adults with 2 children) £20.

    More shiny gubbins, including primary belt drive.

    Footnote: Homologation for World Superbike Racing

    The World Superbike Championship is a racing series for production based bikes, not prototypes. There are rules that govern how many bikes need to be manufactured for a machine to be considered a production motorcycle, and you can read them in section 2.9 (page 60) of the Superbike Technical Regulations on this page of theFIM web site.

    For Superbikes (it's tougher for Supersport and SuperStock), manufacturers making less than 50,000 motorcycles a year must produce 150 examples of a bike for public sale they if want to race it.

    Could Norton sell 150 road versions of the NRV 588? I think so.

    Are the bigger manufacturers pushing for higher homologation requirements to squeeze the smaller companies? Not as far as Benelli, Bimota and Petronas were concerned, and everything I've heard indicates that the organisers of the championship would like to see more of the smaller factories (KTM, perhaps?) taking part.

    The biggest problem in homologating the NRV would be calculating where its engine capacity positions it in relation to other motorcycles. Describing it as 588cc only tells half the story.

    As far as I can find out, the 588cc comes from each rotor having a displacement of 294cc per rotor flank. There are two rotors, so 2x294cc = 588cc. There are three rotor flanks per rotor but the rotor turns at one third of the crankshaft speed (cool animated engine here) so 588cc initially sounds correct. Until you count the number of times the spark plug fires per rotor per crankshaft revolution. Each rotor produces a power stroke on every revolution of the crankshaft; the closest equivalent is a twin cylinder two-stroke.

    For car racing, the Mazda rotary engine is rated at twice its "published" capacity of 1300cc. This is achieved by comparing the volume of petrol and air mixture ignited at a crankshaft speed of 1000rpm. Measured this way, the Mazda Wankel engine is considered to be equivalent to a 2600cc four-stroke engine.

    So the NRV588 should either be compared to an 1176cc four stroke twin or a 588cc two stroke twin (anyone remember Honda's NSR500 V-twin grand prix racer?). This puts its "giant killing" performance against the 750cc four cylinder four strokes of the early nineties British championships into context but - *I* think - justifies its inclusion in the Open 1300cc class at the Isle of Man.

    And best of luck to 'em too!

    Martin Gelder


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